Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Nets star Kyrie Irving returned to the practice court on Tuesday for the first time since the death of his mentor, Kobe Bryant.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson didn't want to speak for Irving, but he noted that his point guard was 'tremendously affected' by Bryant's death.
"I think he was closer to Kobe than people realize. …Very, very affected (by Bryant's death)," Atkinson said after Tuesday's practice. "He practiced today, kind of stoic and quiet. Competed his tail off in practice and was really good. But you can see, he's obviously still affected."
Irving declined to talk to reporters after practice, which is understandable given the circumstances. Bryant and Irving had a strong bond. Irving found out about Bryant's death while he was in Madison Square Garden warming up for Knicks-Nets, and eventually left the arena without playing against New York.
Atkinson said he spoke to Irving for about 20 minutes before addressing the media during his pre-game press conference.
"When you see someone that you're close to hurting like that, that's very difficult," Atkinson said.
It's uncertain if Irving will play against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday, but Atkinson suggested that it was likely.
"Who knows how he feels tomorrow? But I think the fact that he was here today and engaged and had a great practice, I think it bodes well for playing tomorrow," the coach said.
Bryant mentored Irving throughout his career, including providing advice to the point guard during the period of time when he requested a trade from the Cavs. Bryant relayed a story about Irving calling him after the Cavs beat the Warriors in the Finals.
Kobe Bryant was a mentor and close friend to Kyrie Irving, who didn't play tonight against the Knicks following Bryant's death. Kobe shared a great story about the close bond they had. pic.twitter.com/x6uR6aPTDd- Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) January 26, 2020
"It was a huge loss for everyone, especially Kyrie, who's had a tight relationship with Kobe since he came into the league," Kevin Durant said. "To see something happen so drastically when you're about to get ready for a game, a game that you love to play in the Mecca…"
Without Irving, the Nets lost to the Knicks on Sunday. Atkinson said he didn't even watch film of the game because he didn't want to judge his players on their performance in those circumstances.
The head coach noted that players were sitting in silence before Sunday's game, presumably trying to process Bryant's death.
"I had never seen the locker room that quiet," Atkinson said. "No one was saying a word and for hours, it wasn't like it was 20 minutes. It was every time I walked in there."
The head coach wouldn't say whether he ultimately felt it was appropriate to play the game on Sunday. But he said his first reaction when he heard the news was that the games should be postponed.
"My emotions in that moment, I was like, 'No way.' I told (Senior Director of Public Relations) Aaron [Harris] that. I told (Nets GM) Sean [Marks] that. I was like, 'No way,'" Atkinson said.
DeAndre Jordan, who spent seven years in Los Angeles with the Clippers when Bryant was a Laker, grew emotional several times when discussing Bryant on Tuesday.
"As a kid, you grow up, you know, 'Damn, want to play against that guy.' To have the opportunity was great. The talks that he would have with you, never will forget that stuff, regardless of the situation that is at hand now," Jordan said. "That stuff, you remember for the rest of your life. I'm lucky to have been able to compete against him and be able to talk to him on and off the floor."